What is it about old photographs?

I collect other people’s slides. I love looking at them.

Firstly, there is the delicious moment of discovery, upon finding them in second-hand shops or on Ebay. Knowing that they are one-of-a-kind, precious objects. Treasure. Then, the projection or scanning of them provides more discoveries. Some that looked so promising, reveal themselves to be blurred, and the magic is destroyed. But others offer up beautiful new details; an embracing couple in the background, a wry smile, hands brushing against each other. It is these tiny details that thrill me. The clues to stories and identities.

Nostalgia must come into it, of course, but nostalgia for what? The ‘homesickness’ that nostalgia refers to implies wanting to return somewhere. But my favourite images are from a time before I was born, in places I have never been. I am not so seduced by the scenes that I believe it was a ‘better’ time. Nor do I wish I lived in a different era. I am very happy here.

Am I though, returning to the feeling of wonder that I had about the world as child? The curiosity and fascination I felt about ‘grown ups’ and other families? These photographs and slides allow me to do some un-restricted people-watching. Not worrying about manners, or being caught looking, I can study the scene at my leisure.

Playing detective, I can imagine the stories that lie behind them; their anonymity provides space for my imagination.

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